Tuesday, October 29, 2019
By this point, it is very well known that color change here in NC is about two weeks late across the board. By this time, the color should be wrapping up in the mountains and I should be focusing on local color here in Winston-Salem. However, elevations at 2500 feet were still just patchy at the end of last week for my Fall Foliage Workshop and we really missed out on good Autumn images. Even though I didn’t take any landscape images that day, I was itching to get some more Fall color for my portfolio. I had only been out a couple of times where the colors were very vibrant and took on a primary focus of the images that were created which was fine, but I am still making up for a missed season last year. After the workshop was over, I was booked on Monday doing a presentation at UNCG about using photography for self actualization which was really a fun presentation for me to do. It was nice to get back in the swing of doing group presentations, and I am always looking for other opportunities to speak to classes, clubs, and other gatherings.
When the presentation was behind me, it was time to look at what locations I might be able to go shoot next. Looking at the weather, there were going to be clouds for most of the day in the mountains on Tuesday, with rain later on in the week. Not wanting to miss out on clouds, I decided I would go back to the mountains once again for more color. I had been considering doing some waterfall photography since I haven’t really done much of that through the year. Having seen some pictures on Facebook of Linville Falls, I knew that there was a good chance that I would be able to hit the end of peak out there if I went on Tuesday. The conditions were going to be great for working Linville with the clouds and the recent rains which should have built up the water flow a bit from the recent droughts. I knew that even though I was going to be going on a weekday, I would be right at the center of where the color was so I needed to be very careful about my timing so that I might have a chance to get some images without anyone in the frame. That meant starting very early in the morning, like getting to Linville Falls when it was still dark.
I woke up at 4am and was on the road around 5 or so headed West. The trip was rough as I was quite tired and had wanted to stay in bed. However, if I was going to be able to photograph Linville on my terms I was going to have to do it this way. My dedication paid off and I was the first person at the park. Actually I was quite surprised to find the gate to the visitor’s center open. I was expecting to have to go to the side lot off of Old 105. I grabbed my gear and started on my hike in the dark to the Gorge so I could get up close and personal with the main attraction of the park. I used my small LED flashlight which stays mounted to my camera bag to light the trail and it worked fantastic.
About half way to the bottom of the Gorge the sun was coming up and I could see that there were a lot of clouds in the sky. They were actually picking up a little color and the overall lighting was very magenta through the woods. I thought that could be interesting if it stuck around until I got into position, but I was fine with it fading to a more neutral color since I was looking to really pick up the colorful trees more than anything else. I was seeing that the trees along the trail were still rather bright with yellows and oranges. The leaves had started to fall off, but there was still plenty of color for me to work with and that was good enough for me.
By the time I got down to the bottom, I could hear the river rushing by and could tell that the water level was probably at a very good level. I was just hoping that it wasn’t so high that it would prevent me from getting into position to photograph the waterfall. When I did finally get down to the “beach” I was greeted with some really nice cascades leading up to the main falls which I immediately wanted to use in my composition. I just needed to get up to that point. Skirting around the rocky wall was easy enough, but then came the hard part of getting out into the water. I had my waterproof boots on, but I’ve been noticing that they are not nearly as waterproof as they were advertised as being. I was figuring that my feet would be getting wet soon enough, but I tried to minimize that as long as I could.
I worked my way around and scoped out the compositions and finally decided on just standing in the water beneath the cascades, just below the large boulder. I could see the composition developing and knew that I would need my standard lens for it. I made my way back to an area where I could lay the bag on a dry surface to get the camera out of it and put it together. I went ahead and added my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer as well because I knew that I was going to be using that filter. I needed to get it all put together here so that I didn’t have to worry about changing anything while I was standing in shin deep water. I mounted it all to the Manfrotto Tripod on the Acratech GP-SS Ballhead. With the Lowepro bag back on my back, I was walking back out on the water using the tripod as a hiking pole…a really expensive hiking pole.
Linville is an interesting subject as a waterfall. Most of the time, I am dealing with long exposures to get the silky effect on the water, but this is one where the water flow is so heavy that anything more than a second is useless and will actually lose all of the texture of the water. With the low sun and the very shaded lighting I was having a problem getting anywhere near a second’s worth of exposure. I ended up shooting at a relatively wide aperture which worked well for the distance I was shooting from. I also had to boost the ISO to 400 in order to get a second or less exposure. I still wanted a little bit of a long exposure so that the cascades in the foreground would come out looking like I was wanting them too.
It was now down to the composition. I had visualized a horizontal composition and that was what I started shooting, but eventually decided to eliminate the large boulder by flipping the camera on the L Plate to shoot vertical. This worked very well and I knew that I would be cropping the image down to probably an 8×10 when I got it into post. By this stage the lighting was changing and I was getting some really good color on the background so I recomposed and shot the original composition as a horizontal image. When I got them both home, I decided that I liked them both equally as well, and decided that they would both make the final cut. When I was satisfied that I had the right amount of light on the scene from the shrouded sun, I slowly made my way back to the beach with very cold and wet feet.
Before I put the camera away, I decided to focus on the area just to the left of the large boulder, and actually captured the area I had been standing just moments before. As I was framing this image, I could already tell that I wanted this to be a 16:9 crop so I went ahead and selected that option in the camera to make the the composition as perfect as I could. I left the camera built like it had been and framed up the shot. It was the splash of color among the green trees that I was most interested in capturing along with the white water. There were a couple of large rocks to the left which I used to frame the shot on that side. The lighting was perfect for this, and I was getting really excited about how the image was looking. I wasn’t let down when I got it into the computer back at home. It was a simple, yet dramatic image which was exactly what I was going for.
I had been down in the Gorge for a couple of hours at this point and was ready to move on to different things. I made the hike back up the hill and took the fork that would lead me to the Plunge Basin Overlook. I had been here a handful of times in the past, and it still holds the distinction of being the location where I have done the stupidest thing ever in order to get a picture. Let’s just say I was on the other side of the protective wall on a small ledge just to get a picture. I wasn’t even that good of a photographer then, so it really would have been unfortunate to fall to my death for the picture that I got. I did live, and I am smarter now. I was able to set up on the correct side of the wall this time and was very happy to see that some of the brush had been cut back allowing a full view of the basin. I decided that I wanted to get a wide angle shot to show off the colors as well as Linville Falls. I fitted my 16-35mm lens along with a Singh-Ray Polarizer to get ready for the capture. From there it was just a matter of contorting the Manfrotto and Acratech in a way that would get me the composition I wanted.
I didn’t stay up here long since it is pretty much a one trick pony of a view. I liked the composition that I had, but I had been joined by another photographer so that meant that the park was getting some attention and I needed to get on with my day before it got just slam packed. I worked my way back to the parking area so that I could decide on going to Dugger’s Creek Falls, or the upper cascades. When I got there, the lot was filling up, but wasn’t at capacity yet. Since the Upper Cascades would be the more popular of the options, I decided to start with that before everyone and their brother showed up to join me. I set off across the bridge and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the view to the left. I was actually looking into a fine art landscape print…in real life. I didn’t care about crowds, I needed to get this shot in the bag while the light was good. I quickly evaluated the scene and decided that I wanted to do a 16:9 crop with my telephoto lens using the two fallen trees as the framing elements for the fall colors. I added my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer so that I could control the reflection and contrast of the water and then proceeded to get the shot set up.
The composition made itself as I was framing up the image. The problem that I was having was with the color saturation in the trees. It seemed that the light from the sun was washing out the trees ever so slightly. By bringing the exposure down for the trees, I lost the colorful reflection in the water. There was only one thing to do to make this work. I grabbed a Singh-Ray 2-stop soft edge ND Grad and slid it in the Lee Filter Holder. When I looked back through the viewfinder to position the filter I could see that this was the absolute right thing to do. The image just sang to me. I dialed in the Polarizer to get a boost in saturation as well as keeping the contrast of the colors in the river.
I only had to take a handful of exposures with slightly different compositions before I was happy with the scene. I was so excited about how it looked, and to be honest, that excitement is still there after the processing and when I am looking at the posted image as I type here. Having found a great little patch of Fall Colors right here on the bridge, I decided that I would get some woodland isolations showcasing the colors before I packed up the camera. I went ahead and removed the ND Grad from the front of the lens and started to find other compositions to shoot.
The first composition that I went for was an abstract shot of one of the brightest trees in the area. What I liked about it was the way that the branches stretched out to the right and were rather light colored. They framed the bust of colors in the leaves. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but the idea interested me. When I got done editing it, I wasn’t convinced that this was a good picture. It was just as I had envisioned it, but that doesn’t mean it would be a good one. I called Toni in for her opinion since the woodland abstracts are kind of her thing. She loved it, and that sealed the deal that it would be added to the pile of keepers from this trek. I trust her opinion on these things and usually if she likes an image, it does very well posting to social media.
The next composition that I went with was one that was a bit more my style of composition. I used the structure of a tree on the other side of the bridge as the anchor and framed it with a vibrant patch of leaves behind it. These are the images that I enjoy in the Fall as the colors just become a backdrop for the intricate structure of a tree. Toni gave this one her seal of approval as well, so I was well on my way in adding to my woodland images which have been neglected for a while. Fall is the best time to capture these images because of the drama that the colors add to the compositions.
I had been on the bridge for about 30 minutes at this point and I knew it was time to move on to the Upper Cascades or miss out on having any room to work. I packed up the gear and set off at a near trot to get there quickly. I had been passed by at least 30 people while shooting the previous set of images. I just knew that we were all going to the same place, and I wasn’t looking forward to fighting for space. However, when I got there, the crowds were nothing like I had anticipated. I had room to work, but part of the overlook had been closed off from recent floods so I wasn’t able to get into the position that I normally would have been. I had to step back and evaluate what I had to work with, and what composition would work since I was going to have a cluttered foreground with what was left of the fence just under the Upper Cascades.
The first composition that I went with was the cascade on the left side of the twin falls. There was some good color behind of it that I wanted to capture. I knew I was going to need my telephoto lens to reach out that far since I was shooting about 30 feet further back than normal. Of course, I added a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to reduce the glare and to saturate the colors. The composition kind of took care of itself as I started to frame it up. I added a little visual tension to the image by placing the waterfall on the left side which was the way the water was flowing. It would have normally fit better on the right side of the frame, but I wanted to include the small cascades as a counter element to balance the foliage above. It all worked out really well, and when Toni saw my progress on it, she said it reminded her of Bob Ross because of how the trees were just randomly placed above the waterfall. I liked the observation and that was what led to the title of this one.
While I was shooting the one cascade I was noticing that the light was changing. The sun was starting to peek out from behind the clouds which was casting some really great light on different features of the landscape. I saw that there was a bright red and orange tree just over a set of cascades that was picking up the light. I decided it was time to move over to that area and pay some attention to that scene. I quickly got the camera set up and a composition worked out. I was using the same formula that I had been using with the exception that I was now shooting vertical to emphasize the tree. When the sun came out and hit it, I was ready, but I had greatly underestimated the exposure. I dialed it in quickly but got only a fraction of a second under the strong light. That was not nearly enough time to get the effect I was wanting. After the sun went in, I went to my bag and got out a Singh-Ray 5-stop Mor Slo filter to reduce the amount of light coming into the lens. The next time the sun came out to play, I was set and ready for it. I dialed in an exposure of 6 seconds which worked fantastically for the moving water. I waited for two more such occasions to happen before I was happy with the selection of images from this scene. I knew that I would have at least one where the light was hitting the tree just right. While I had been waiting on the sun, I was paying attention to how the sun was hitting the right side waterfall with a patch of color behind it. I hadn’t been planning on capturing that waterfall, but looking at it in the current light I decided that it would make a pretty awesome image as well.
Since the light was fleeting, I kept the camera built the same way for this shot and dialed in the composition that I wanted. I moved a bit to the right to avoid the broken fence at the end of the overlook section which would have complicated the scene. The composition was quite nice and included the yellow and orange tree to the left as well as the red one to the right. The lighting was perfect, and I was still benefiting from the ND Filter and had an exposure of 3.2 seconds which was perfect for this particular feature. I stayed with this composition for a while as the light kept changing and got about a half dozen images from here. The one that I liked the most had a bit of light in the background that really helped the yellows pop on the left of the frame which balanced out nicely with the waterfall in the lower right.
After I was done with this composition, I looked around at all the people and decided it was time to go. I had thought about doing Duggar’s Creek Falls, but when I got to the parking lot that dream faded. There were just too many people and I knew that the small waterfall wasn’t going to have much color for the season anyway. I was happy with all that I had captured up until now and was ready to see what the Blue Ridge Parkway had to offer in terms of color. I loaded everything back up into the truck and headed North on the Parkway to see what else awaited me.
It took a while to find something that caught my eye though. There was still color, but much of the color had faded from the trees and nothing was really jumping out at me. I went past Rough Ridge where I had been a few weeks ago and it was very much past peak, but there were still hordes of people there. I went past Price Lake and found that the leaves had mostly faded and fallen there as well. The lower I went, the more the trees just looked dried up. Maybe it was that I had seen such great color at Linville, or maybe I was just worn out, but nothing was catching my eyes at all.
As I was coming up to my exit on the Parkway, I saw a tree that I had shot years ago which is still one of my favorite images. The last time I had photographed it, it was raining so I had a very hard time getting the image that I really wanted because I was fighting with an umbrella trying to keep the lens clear. I had also used my standard lens with a hood on it which left me wanting to go wider. Today I was going to have my opportunity to go a bit wider and try some more dramatic compositions. I pulled off the road and grabbed my camera. I added a 16-35mm lens which would give me a lot more perspective than before. I thought about filters but since there was a light fog, I really didn’t think that a filter would help anything, so I left the lens naked.
I wanted to do something different with this image, so I started out with a horizontal composition that included the Parkway going off into the brightly lit fog in the distance. I wasn’t sure if this would work or not, but I liked the concept. I was figuring that it would end up being a monochrome image with the high contrasts involved. It was a pretty straightforward shot and there wasn’t much concern with it. I knew that the sky would be blow out, but since it was just peeking through the branches, I was able to deal with losing any detail. It was fog after all, and there was really no detail to be had with it at all anyway. When I was satisfied with that composition, I moved in closer and went vertical to emphasize the tree. It was another straightforward shot that required nothing particularly special to capture. I shot a few variations on both compositions but knew that I was going to have a hard time processing them with the extreme contrasts that I was seeing thanks to shooting in the shade with the bright sky also visible. The tree was just too good to let it go by. There was also just the hint of fall colors there to warm the scene and provide the color balance that I needed with the overly cool fog tones to the left.
This second composition turned out to be my monochrome image. It was really kind of muddy in color with the fog in the background and in order to really make it pop, I pulled all of the color out of it. What I loved about the composition was that the trees to the left seemed to have a very pronounced curve which followed the lower left branch. The ones to the right seemed to follow the more straight nature of the that lower branch. It all seed so carefully orchestrated, but I knew that it was just a product of the wide angle lens and the fact that I was shooting nearly straight up into the sky. It worked well with the image, and with the stark black and white presentation it all just came together. The viewer’s attention was cemented on the tree and the shapes behind it. It was the image that I had been after that first time I had shot the tree, but wasn’t able to get that perspective due to the rain that was falling. I just love the power of a wide angle lens!
With that, my day on the Blue Ridge Parkway had come to an end. It was time to pack it up and head to the house. I needed to get back in time to go and have dinner with my Grandfather who celebrated his 99th birthday on the 29th. It had been a great day, and I had seen so much in my short time in the mountains. It had been about two years since I have been to Linville Falls, so it was really nice to see that once again, and to see it in full Autumn color was remarkable. I had the opportunity to shoot woodland images as well as some other landscapes. I had sun, clouds, and fog. It was just such a magical day in the mountains!
I had shot 127 frames between 7:15am and 1pm. I was seriously thinking that I would have no more than nine keepers out of the bunch, but after culling the images, I had settled on 15 that I liked. After a remarkably short time editing them, I was down to a total of 12 which I thought were worth keeping. These represented all of the main subjects that I had shot during the day and really caught the feel of the entire experience. I do hope that you enjoy them, and remember…if one speaks to you on a deeper level, I would love to talk with you about getting a print of that image into your hands and onto your wall.
Until next time….